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Motorcycle sales reflect uncertainty

Harley-Davidson Inc. says riders concerned about the economy are throttling big purchases, like the company’s classic motorcycles, sending its profit down 26.3 percent in the fourth quarter.

Sales in the U.S. were down 14.2 percent in the quarter, the company said Friday. That outpaces the domestic heavyweight motorcycle market’s fall of 9 percent.

CEO Jim Ziemer called the retail environment “challenging” for this year and said dealers report consumers are worried about the direction of the economy. They’re holding off on larger purchases, like Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which start at $6,695 but can often cost more than $20,000 fully loaded.

“The big thing is not lack of interest,” Ziemer said. “People are waiting to see what happens with the economy before making big decisions.”

But the company said it expects moderate growth in both earnings per share and revenue this year. Analysts expected slightly lower revenue and higher earnings in 2008.

Milwaukee-based Harley said its profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31 totaled $186.1 million, or 78 cents per share, compared with a profit of $252.4 million, or 97 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue dropped 7.7 percent to $1.39 billion from $1.50 billion in the period.

• Construction-equipment maker and economic bellwether Caterpillar Inc. said Friday that it expects resilient overseas economies to drive strong sales and profit growth this year, even as the United States teeters toward recession.

The company said its fourth-quarter earnings rose 11 percent on strong international sales, helped along by a weak U.S. dollar that makes American products more affordable.

The company earned $975 million, or $1.50 per share, compared with $882 million, or $1.32 per share a year earlier. Revenue rose 10 percent to $12.14 billion from $11 billion in the prior-year period.

• Diversified manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. reported a 17.8 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit while recording growth in all four of its business segments. Its stock rose almost 4 percent Friday.

The Morris Township-based company late Thursday said it earned $689 million, or 91 cents per share, for the three months that ended Dec. 31, up from $585 million, or 72 cents per share, a year earlier.

Fourth-quarter sales gained 12.1 percent to $9.28 billion from $8.28 billion in the same period a year ago. The analysts had projected sales of $8.94 billion.

• Though happy about Sun Microsystems Inc.‘s second-quarter results, investors remained wary about the server and software maker’s ability to prosper under intensifying pressure from rivals.

The Santa Clara-based company posted profit and sales that inched past Wall Street’s estimates Thursday after the market closed.

Sun’s net income leaped 95 percent, rising to $260 million, or 31 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 30. That was nearly twice as high as Sun’s profit of $133 million, or 15 cents per share, during the same period a year earlier.

Kia Motors said Friday that it swung to a net profit in the fourth quarter of 2007, although profit for the full year slumped 66 percent on declining sales.

Kia Motors Corp., South Korea’s second-largest automaker, earned 37.9 billion won ($40 million), the company said in a statement, compared to a net loss of 200 million won in the same quarter a year ago.

Sales during the quarter, however, fell 7.8 percent to 4.69 trillion won ($4.95 billion), Kia said.